Cathay Pacific Launches 49 Day Duty Periods

With new quarantine rules imposed by the Hong Kong government coming into effect today, Cathay Pacific is adjusting its staffing policy and extending rotation time. Following a three-week shift, staff will need to isolate for two weeks. Adding another two weeks of time off, a full duty cycle is now 49 days.

Cathay Pacific Launches 49 Day Duty Periods
Crew will have three weeks on and two weeks off, with a two-week isolation period in between. Photo: Cathay Pacific

“The government understands the impact on airlines’ and shipping companies’ operations, and that on aircrew and sea crew members to be brought about by the new arrangements…Having said that, we would appeal to the industry’s understanding of the need to tighten the relevant exemption conditions, and call for the industry to join our concerted efforts to fight the virus.” – Hong Kong government via South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s quarantine rules come into effect today

Effective today, February 20th, Hong Kong is imposing a stringent 14-day quarantine requirement for aircrew members.

According to Straits Times, Cathay Pacific is going to extreme lengths to adjust to these rules and ensure the most efficient deployment of crew. Here’s what those affected will be looking forward to with the new ‘closed loop’ rotation plan:

  • Crew will be on a 21-day duty cycle. Those in this plan must isolate at Cathay’s Headland Hotel whenever they return to Hong Kong during this period.
  • This will be followed by a self-isolation period of 14 days in a hotel in Taikoo Shing on Hong Kong Island.
  • Once the self-isolation period is complete, crew will get 14 days off.

This brings the full duty cycle to 49 days.

Cathay Pacific Launches 49 Day Duty Periods
Crew will have three weeks on and two weeks off, with a two-week isolation period in between. Photo: Cathay Pacific

“As long as stringent quarantine measures continue to be in place in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the coming months will be extremely challenging,” – Ronald Lam, Chief customer and commercial officer, Cathay Pacific via Straits Times

Exemptions to the new rules

This 49-day cycle won’t affect all airline employees. An internal airline memo seen by Bloomberg News notes that there are some exemptions to the new quarantine restrictions:

  • Flights to and from mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau,
  • Some flights with a layover in Anchorage, Alaska – a major cargo transit point for Cathay Pacific,
  • “Turnaround flights” where crew do not leave the aircraft and no passengers are onboard returning to Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific Launches 49 Day Duty Periods
With the exemptions in place, it looks like crew on certain cargo routes will not have to face quarantine. Photo: Cathay Pacific

A challenging policy for an already hard-hit airline

Bloomberg reports that Cathay estimates the new quarantine requirements will add about HK$400 million ($51.6 million) to its monthly cash burn. Increased expenses are particularly unwelcome during this challenging period in the air travel market. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong has no domestic air routes. Meanwhile, normally profitable long-haul international services are suspended due to travel restrictions. Australia is one such example of this. Perhaps Singapore’s new quarantine-free business bubble will at least support increased travel down south.

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An airline spokesperson has at least disclosed to Bloomberg that enough staff have volunteered to participate in the program. While no specific numbers were disclosed, we know that they’ll undergo medical surveillance for seven days after the 14-day hotel quarantine period.

The internal memo also warned that, due to the uncertainty of how long this policy will last, some crew might be required to sign up for all or part of a second 49-day cycle.

A question particularly for aircrew out there: What do you think of this plan? Is it something you would be willing to do yourself? Let us know in the comments.